By Rob Patrick
SHERIDAN — Even at 25-0, the Bryant Lady Hornets freshman team was primed for an upset when they took on the rival Benton Lady Panthers in the second round of the Central Arkansas Junior High Conference on Monday night.
The psychology was ripe.
Bryant had defeated Benton three times this season. No one had played the Lady Hornets tougher than the Lady Panthers did in the first two of those meetings. But, most recently — in fact, just four day before — Bryant had dominated the Lady Panthers on their own floor though that wasn’t the indication based on the 37-25 final score. The Lady Hornets had led 21-2 early in that one.
But with their season on the line in Monday’s tournament game, the Lady Panthers returned to form, jumping to a 10-4 lead and hanging on for a 12-10 edge at the half, just the second time this season that the Lady Hornets had been behind at the break.
But Bryant limited Benton to just 11 more points in the game while ratcheting up the intensity in their press and on offense, surging to a 37-23 win.
Now 26-0, the Lady Hornets advance to the tourney semifinals against the upstart host team Wednesday evening at 6:30 p.m.
Sheridan, on a four-game win streak, is the seventh seed from the South Division but has knocked off the North’s No. 2 seed Vilonia, 36-19, and the South’s No. 3 seed North Little Rock, 32-29.
The two teams have played twice this season with Bryant winning 42-20 at home and 39-20 at Sheridan. But the Lady Stingers appear to be playing their best basketball of the season right now and, as a matter of fact, are the only other team to hold a halftime lead against the Lady Hornets this season.
As for Benton, Lady Hornets head coach Eric Andrews said, “I was pretty sure that was the Benton team we were going to get. Last week, they were not happy with the outcome of the game, then when you get in this situation where it’s win or go home, you bet you’re going to get their best. I think it gave them a little bit of fire. They didn’t want to end their season like that.
“I knew Coach (Kelly) Scott would have them ready,” he continued. “He does a great job with them. They’ve gotten so much better through the year. Then we came out just not prepared to play. It took us a half to finally decide we were going to have to play.
“We were not focused at all, especially in the first quarter,” Andrews asserted. “The effort was kind of halfway.”
Early foul trouble plagued Bryant as well, sapping them of some of their usual aggressiveness.
“We’ve got to learn to adjust to the officials better,” Andrews commented. “You don’t know what you’re going to get every night and you’ve got to make adjustments through the game to be able to handle that.”
There was no intensity problem for Benton. The Lady Panthers took a 5-2 lead on baskets by Allison Reynolds and Korie Parker around a free throw by Drew Melton.
Bryant’s Courtney Davidson hit a free throw but Benton’s Gavin Taylor answered with a 3 that had her team up 8-3.
Kiara Moore hit a free throw for Bryant just before picking up her second foul which sent her to the bench. When Madi Brooks scored in the final seconds of the first quarter, Benton had its 10-4 lead.
The Lady Panthers managed just 2 points the rest of the half, however, missing four free throws along the way.
The Lady Hornets whittled on the lead but shots they usually make just weren’t falling and Benton was limiting their second opportunities by rebounding well.
But Bryant didn’t do much better on offense, going 2 for 6 at the line. Baskets by McKenzie Adams, who would go on to a game-high 23 points, and Courtney Davidson trimmed the margin to 2.
Andrews said of the halftime talk, “There was nothing to adjust. We just had to start playing. I told them I could sit there and go over 100 things that we could do but why change anything when we hadn’t done anything we worked on yet? The bottom line was, we just had to start playing our game. Once we started doing that, it started turning around.”
Brooks, who led her team with 8 points, hit two free throws to start the second-half scoring but then Moore hit a pair. After a Benton turnover, Moore was fouled again as Brooks picked up her third. And when a technical foul on Scott followed, Moore added another free throw to trim the Lady Panthers lead to 14-13.
On the subsequent possession, Brooks picked up her fourth foul and had to come out.
And Bryant’s outside shooting started to warm up a bit. Adams hit a 12-footer then Davidson swiped the inbounds pass and hit a layup to put the Lady Hornets ahead 17-14.
Benton never led again though Parker had a chance to tie it with a three-point play but she was unable to convert the free throw. A Bryant turnover gave the Lady Panthers a chance to regain the advantage but Davidson and Adams combined on a theft that Adams cashed in.
Bryant was starting to make headway with the effectiveness of a ¾-court trap press.
But Benton solved it enough to keep close. In the final minute of the quarter, the Lady Panthers still just trailed 23-20 but a pair of missed free throws that could’ve cut it to 2 hurt. Moore and Adams closed out the quarter with free throws the bumped the advantage to 6 and cost the Lady Panthers the services of Taylor, who fouled out.
Logan Davis started the fourth quarter with a steal for the Lady Hornets. Adams took a lob to the opposite block from Moore after receiving a freeing back-screen. Her basket made it 28-20 and forced a Benton timeout.
Another missed opportunity at the line — the Lady Panthers were 8 of 19 for the game — prevented a closing of the gap but sent Moore to the bench with her fourth foul. The Lady Panthers’ second leading scorer, Moore managed just 5 points due in large part to playing time limited by the foul trouble.
Benton had two chances to cut into the 8-point margin before Lauren Buck stepped out on a wing and nailed a jumper that seemed to take a lot out of the Lady Panthers. Another turnover led to a second basket by Buck, following her own miss.
And when Adams came through with a three-point play at the 1:44 mark, the Lady Hornets had built a 35-20 lead.
Brooks managed the first points of the quarter for the Lady Panthers by hitting a pair of free throws with 1:39 left. Parker would later add another but Adams hit 2 of 4 in the final 1:21 to counter for the Lady Hornets.
LADY HORNETS 37, LADY PANTHERS 23
Score by quarters
Benton 10 2 8 3 — 23
BRYANT 4 6 16 11 — 37
LADY PANTHERS 23
Melton 1-2 1-4 3, Taylor 1-4 0-0 3, Parker 2-7 3-5 7, Brooks 2-6 4-8 8, Reynolds 1-3 0-0 2, Lile 0-2 0-0 0, Britt 0-0 0-2 0. Totals 7-24 8-19 23.
LADY HORNETS 37
Moore 0-1 5-8 5, Adams 7-14 9-14 23, Davis 0-2 0-2 0, Davidson 2-4 1-3 5, Meyer 0-0 0-0 0, Rice 0-2 0-0 0, Buck 2-3 0-0 4, Murphy 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 11-26 15-27 37.
Three-point field goals: Benton 1-4 (Taylor 1-3, Reynolds 0-1). Rebounds: Benton 25 (Lile 7, Brooks 6), Bryant 20 (Moore, Davidson, Buck 4). Turnovers: Benton 22, Bryant 9. Team fouls: Benton 19, Bryant 18. Fouled out: Benton, Melton, Taylor. Technical fouls: Benton, Coach Scott; Bryant, Rice